The Spinster and the Prophet: A Review

This review appeared earlier, but I am sharing it again while I am recuperating. Enjoy.


Themes: intellectual rights, gender roles, marriage, women’s rights, suffrage, sexism, free love, Canadian history, publishing, fame
Setting: Toronto and London, early 20th century


I picked this up because of the title, but I brought it home because I had just finished The War of the Worlds. The book is about an obscure female writer, Florence Deeks, who accused H G Wells of plagiarizing large portions of his World History book from her unpublished manuscript. The writer starts by profiling each party in the lawsuit, first Wells, then Deeks, then back to Wells for a bit, and so on. I certainly learned much that I had never heard before about Wells. I was really only familiar with his science fiction writing, although I had heard the titles of another book or two. But I had no idea what a ladies’ man he was. He was a fervent advocate of free love and Fabianism, had at least one illegitimate child, and made his wife extremely unhappy by the way he couldn’t stay away from other women. The worst part was the way that he wrote books about his affairs, only halfway hiding their identities, and then published them for the whole world to read. His regular publisher even had to refuse a couple of books as too racy to handle, thinking more of lawsuits and poor taste that actual content.

So what’s the verdict? Did he steal her work? Well, sadly, that’s where this book got boring. I really didn’t care about the state of Canadian publishing at the time, the characters involved, or long passages comparing sections sentence by sentence. I also especially didn’t care about the court cases. I just wanted a summary of that, and more of the personalities involved. It was interesting to learn about Canada at the time, but get on with the verdict! The court decided in favor of the man, naturally, but the writer and the reader will probably disagree.

If you are a fan of Wells, I think you might enjoy at least looking through this one. Otherwise, I would stay away. It was somewhat interesting, but would have been much better if the focus had stayed on the people and not strayed so far into details. 2.5 stars

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